The History and Development of Korean Acupuncture (2)


Written by

  • Sanghoon Lee, KMD, MPH, PhD, DiplAc, LAc Professor, Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine Kyunghee university
  • Dongwoo Nam, KMD, PhD Assistant Professor, Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine Kyunghee university
  • Jeongmin Ko, KMD, Dr.Jeongmin Ko’s Korean Medicine Clinic (Inc.) All that Korean Medicine
  • Hyojung Kwon, KMD, PhD (Inc.) All that Korean Medicine
  • Seung Min Kathy Lee, KMD, PhD, Research Fellow Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine Kyung Hee University
  • Park Jun Hyeong, KMD, MS, Researcher, Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, College of Korean Medicine
    Kyung Hee University

Published in December 2017 by Korean Society of Acupuncture & Moxibustion Society

2. Goryeo dynasty (918-1392 AD) and Joseun dynasty (1392-1897 AD)

Trade between China and Korea flourished during the Goryeo and Joseun dynasties. Education of acupuncture and moxibustion was also systematically established and enforced. During the Goryeo period, medical education was divided into subspecialties, and in the Joseun period, acupuncture specialists were further established. From historical texts and artifacts of the Joseun period, historians have unearthed names of famous acupuncturists such as Im Heo, Anguk Lim, Gwanghyun Baek,
Hyung-ik Lee, and Saam. Printing technologies were widespread and important medical volumes such as [Compilation of date selection for acupuncture and moxibustion: 鍼灸擇日編集]], [Compilation of Native Korean Prescriptions: 鄕藥集成方], [Guide to Swollen Sore Treatment: 治腫指南] were independently published.
An acupuncturist that received great recognition during the Joseon dynasty was Im Heo. He worked as the royal acupuncturist for King Seonjo and wrote Chimgu Kyunghumbang, which was a book summarizing his treatment experiences. He also used his own style of tonification and sedation methods, which were a collection of several different methods first introduced in Huangdi Neijing.
Gwahyun Baek used large surgical needles to remove abscess, and Hyung-ik Lee was famous for his ‘burnt acupuncture’ method used to treat mental anxiety.5) Most importantly, it was during the Joseon dynasty that uniquely Korean style acupuncture methods were first developed.6) During the 17th century, Korea was poverty stricken from endless wars. Many of the Korean people living in the countryside lacked access to doctors and treatment, as most herbs had to be imported from China. With a strong societal need for education and to reinforce public health, the King ordered royal physicians to compile medical textbooks that had information on local and easily growable herbs for treatment. Donguibogam, one of Korea’s most well known and famous medical books was also published during this time. Along with development of uniquely Korean style textbooks, unique acupuncture methods developed as well. Saam acupuncture, developed by a Buddhist monk called Saam and Taeguk acupuncture, which was developed by Jema Lee are a few of them.

3. Colonial period to the present (1910 AD-present)

1) Japanese colonization (1910-1945 AD)
The Japanese empire colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945 A.D. and during this period, anything that was traditionally Korean was suppressed. This included acupuncture and traditional medicine.

2) Republic of Korea (1945 AD-present)
In 1951, Korea passed the National Medical Act, which revived Traditional Korean Medicine and established the current dual medical system. This meant that the government officially acknowledged Korean medicine doctors and Western medicine
doctors (dentists included) as physicians with equal status and responsibilities. 
In 1964, education of Korean Medicine was enforced and formal education was required to take place as a 6-year university level program. The students were required to complete many of the basic classes that were taught in conventional medical colleges, and to learn traditional medicine additionally. To enter into a Korean Medicine University, students could either opt to attend a 6-year course of education at 11 private universities nationwide, or choose to go to a 4-year post-baccalaureate program that is offered by one national university in Busan.7)
Regarding acupuncture, students had to take 192 course hours in Meridianol-ogy–classes targeting the basics to advanced studies in individual acupuncture points and meridians. Then, students had to take another 192 course hours in Acupuncture and Mox-ibustion, training in different types of acupuncture techniques, application of the nee-dles in the clinic, and the management of different diseases using acupuncture. In their final year, students were required to shadow the Department of Acupuncture and
Moxi-bustion for several weeks. This was only the acupuncture part of the total 5,712 required course hours for completing the Korean Medicine major.8) In order to further develop specialists in Korean Medicine, in 1999, the government established a specialist training program. After students graduated from a TKM university and successfully passed the national licensing examination, the licensed Korean Medicine doctors could choose to receive further in-depth training in a designated Korean
Medicine hospital as part of a year long internship followed by three years of residency.
In the Department of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, residents would receive further training in diagnosis, management, and treatment of musculoskeletal and neurological diseases, and learn how to utilize the many different types of acupuncture needles and techniques following safe and effective procedures.
In 1987, the Korean government wanted to make traditional medicine easily approachable and more available to patients, and decided to include acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, and herbal medicine costs (if prescribed among 68 single herbs or 56 formulas) to be reimbursed by the National Health Insurance. Korea was one of the first countries in the world to fully include traditional medical treatment in their national health insurance system.

  • 5) Kim SS. About burnt needle therapy by Lee Hyung-ik. Yonsei Euisahak. 2014;17(2):7-29.
  • 6) W. S. Cha, J. H. Oh, H. J. Park, S. W. Ahn, S. Y. Hong, and N. I. Kim, “Historical difference between traditional Korean medicine and traditional Chinese medicine,” Neurological Research, vol. 29, supplement 1, pp. S5–S9, 2007
  • 7) Park HL, Lee HS, Shin BC, Liu JP, Shang Q, Yamashita H, Lim B. Traditional medicine in China, Korea, and Japan: A brief introduction and comparison. Evid Bas Complement Altern Med. 2012. Article ID 429103
  • 8) Shim BS, Koh BH, Ahn KS. Education in oriental medicine in Kyung Hee University. Evid Bas Complement Altern Med. 2004;1(3):331-4.